The zero-waste crusaders

Recent estimates suggest that business waste accounts for over 60 per cent of England’s waste. Rising Landfill Tax and a raft of waste management recommendations over the past decade (both voluntary and compulsory) have provided both the financial and environment disincentives to dump – and not without good reason.

With the demand on landfill reaching critical proportions; the National Audit Office warned in 2009 that there are only seven years of landfill capacity left in England and Wales – burying the problem is no longer an option for any of us.

Waste opportunities

According to Dr Clive Roberts, Senior Lecturer in the School of Applied Sciences at the University of  Wolverhampton, alternative options for dealing with business waste have emerged as landfill is increasingly seen as a last resort.

“Businesses have had to make sense of constantly changing regulations around waste management, which is a challenge. However, it has prompted some proactive approaches from within companies and been a catalyst for innovation in the waste management sector.

”For businesses wishing to make an impact on their own waste management, Clive cites the hierarchy of waste treatment options – ranging from waste reduction as the best case scenario, all the way down to the bottom of the pile, disposal to landfill – as a good guide to follow.

“Businesses can use this model to look at their own treatment of waste. Ideally, looking to reduce the amount of waste they generate in the first instance, but the next best option is to aim for sustainable disposal practices.”

Clive cites the Telford-based company, Ricoh – a European market leader in digital copiers – as an example of good practice. The single-use packaging they used to protect their copiers not only resulted in costly ongoing outlay for the company, but presented unnecessary environmental waste. Their solution was to design reusable packaging which could be returned to them by the customer for reuse.

Businesses wishing to translate waste management regulations into meaningful practice will find useful resources available from WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) and NISP (National Industrial Symbiosis Programme). Visit: and

Green and lean

Thinking ahead, taking a greener approach to waste management now can set your business apart from your competitors. Implementing environmental management systems such as ISO 14001 can help your business win valuable contracts. Although it’s not a legal requirement to have ISO 14001, it is becoming the standard across Europe as Clive explains:

“Other European companies favour or only work with businesses that have the ISO 14001 accreditation. The University has been able to help local businesses undertake their base-line assessment – which is the first step to achieving registration. It’s not inconceivable that the European Parliament will make ISO 14001 a legal requirement, so it’s in the interest of businesses to prepare themselves”.

The growth of waste-reduction

Environmental waste management has emerged as a rapidly growing sector in the UK. Recognised as a fertile area for innovation, developments in the waste management sector have helped businesses overcome some of their waste management issues, offering more opportunities than ever to reuse, recycle or recover value from their waste.

Considerable investment in new technologies has resulted in more economic benefit being gained from waste materials. An example is the exporting of waste-oil abroad to countries like Germany for treatment and processing – representing considerable cost to both the originating company and the environment. A brand new waste-oil recycling facility in North Lanarkshire is the first of its kind in the UK to employ vacuum distillation to turn industrial waste oil into reusable lubricant and fuel oil.

The unit is designed to ensure no harmful emissions are released into the atmosphere and is a safer and more cost effective option than conventional methods used to recycle waste oil. The waste recovery industry is also looking at ways to recycle rare earth elements and other critical metals.Increasing demand for these commodities has led to an escalation in price, dictated mainly by China. If successful, this development would allow UK manufacturers, especially those in the hi-tech and ‘green’ energy industries, to source these valuable commodities nearer to home.

As we strive towards a ‘zero waste’ target, it does appear that there’s very little that can’t be recycled. However, businesses and waste management providers still have to strike a balance between cost and the environment. Some waste products still remain too expensive to be viably recycled. But this sector appears to be a pipeline for innovation with plenty of investment being channelled into research and development in search of ever more innovative solutions to our waste problems.

For further information please contact the Wolverhampton Business Solutions Centre on 01902 321272 or